It’s something nearly every funeral professional hates to see: an obituary for someone from a family served for generations, who this time chose another funeral home. Things have changed during the past decade or so, which affects the way funeral directors must think about their funeral business.
There are several reasons why a member of a family served for many years might choose another funeral home — and it’s not always because of poor service. Conversely, there are many things funeral professionals don’t do to communicate ongoing value to consumers who have experiences with their firms and to remain relevant in those families’ lives. It is simply not good practice to only be present when there is a death in the family.
Here are some of the reasons why families are not so “locked in” to one funeral service provider or another, beyond a poor experience:
People move away from their hometowns. They move for careers, for spouses, for their children and to be close to grandchildren. Sometimes they return home, but loyalties to businesses may not remain intact. Often, the person responsible for planning a funeral for a parent has been away long enough to have forgotten the family’s traditional funeral home.
A number of factors may influence how an uninformed, grieving, stressed-out person chooses a funeral home for a parent from afar. The first of these factors is not knowing what funeral homes may exist or if a particular funeral director is still working. Other factors may include funeral costs and whether decisions have been made in advance, including if cemetery property has been purchased.
The “sandwich generation”
This is related to the situation mentioned above. The sandwich generation is an identifier for a large and growing segment of the population who find themselves caring for and financially supporting both their children and parents. A blessing and a burden, this situation can place enormous strain while also providing an opportunity to connect with elder family members in ways that create lasting memories. Nonetheless, sandwich generation decision makers are influenced by their financial situations and what their elderly or ill parents want.
Communicating value and maintaining relationships with this segment of the population helps ensure that, when it comes time to make end-of-life decisions, your firm is among the resources sought to help with tasks that are simultaneously heartbreaking and joyful.
Access to information
Ah, the internet — a vast expanse of knowledge and data spanning cradle to grave and everything in between. If you think funeral professionals should be focused only on topics related to the “grave,” you’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity. People who moved from their hometowns long ago may one day need to arrange for end-of-life care for an elderly or ill parent. They’ll go online to search for long-term care or hospice facilities, as well as to connect with a funeral home when death occurs.
If your firm does not have a robust, optimized website, you’re sure to be missed in this search for service providers — even if using your firm has been the family’s choice for generations. Lack of a strong website and social media presence or failing to keep in touch with survivors after providing services are sure ways to see loyalty and opportunities for long-term service erode.
A strained economy
A very slow economic recovery has put a strain on families, affecting all kinds of purchasing decisions. This includes funeral service planning. A quick online search will return many options for families who feel they need lower-cost options, and there are plenty of family services organizations that assist seniors with finding lower-cost products and services. Unfortunately, a price-focused approach to funeral planning often results in a poor experience for survivors.
It is so important to understand what consumers know and demand in terms of memorialization, funeral service, cremation and burial, so you can fill in the information gaps. This way, people can make confident decisions. Plus, you’ll be viewed as a trusted advisor on end-of-life matters.
Three ways to maintain relationships with families and survivors
- Aftercare for everyone: Regardless of the experience a person has with your firm, it is important to reach out following that experience. This includes an immediate-need funeral planning experience, a pre-need experience, if a consumer merely reaches out for price information and anyone who attends a funeral service provided by your funeral home. Some will tell you they do not wish to be contacted, many will appreciate your message of gratitude on behalf of the firm or the family you served at-need.
If you acknowledge how people feel after a funeral service or funeral planning experience and provide information that might help them with these feelings, you will certainly build loyalty or gain a new client. The ultimate goal is to earn their recommendation.
- Acquire CRM and assign or hire someone to champion it: “CRM” is the acronym for Customer Relationship Management, and there are many options on the market – even some from companies that specialize in products for funeral professionals. A quality application is both a database and a marketing communications system that helps you keep track of all the folks who experience your brand and coordinate relationship-building communications with them. Most important: a CRM system is useless if you are not committed to entering and managing the data.
- Offer the opportunity for clients to tell their stories: Testimonials are powerful advertising messages. People trust what others say about their experience with products and services, and many love telling their friends they should do the same thing. Personal recommendations build brands and help businesses sustain success.
Case in point: A recent Homesteaders study shows that 96% of people who prearrange their funerals say they would at least consider recommending it. This same study revealed that 96% of prearrangers are “completely” to “very” satisfied with their decision. This is likely due to a combination of emotions related to the planning experience provided by the funeral home plus the fact that a big burden has been lifted.
In any event, if your firm provides the same kind of high-satisfaction service for families when the need for a funeral is immediate, you can bet they are going to talk about the experience to people in their spheres. Some may even be open to the idea of providing a public testimonial on behalf of your firm. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can use comments, the name and even a photo of people who say they had a positive experience with your funeral home. Not only will you add to your success story, but it will also endear that family to you long after the experience they enjoyed — especially if you continue nurturing the relationship through direct mail, emails and social media.
What other methods have you found effective at maintaining relationships with client families? Share your success stories in the comments below.
Dean Lambert is the Senior VP - Marketing & Communications for Homesteaders Life Company. He is a frequent presenter at funeral association events and has published numerous articles on funeral home marketing and PR. Click here to learn more about the leadership team at Homesteaders.